Whiplash

Whiplash

Alternate Names

  • hyperextension injury of the neck
  • Site of neck X-ray
  • Neck X-ray

Definition

Whiplash occurs when the neck is suddenly and forcibly bent backward and forward. This causes injury to the joints of the neck, known as the cervical vertebrae, and to the surrounding soft tissue. The most common causes of whiplash are motor vehicle crashes, especially when the vehicle is struck from the rear.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Whiplash injuries usually happen to a person who is not wearing a seat belt when a motor vehicle is rear-ended. As a result of whiplash, the ligaments in the neck may be stretched or even torn. Sometimes fractures in the vertebrae may also occur.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the injury?

Generally, wearing a seat belt to prevent sudden jerking of the head during a motor vehicle crash can prevent help to prevent this injury.

Diagnosed

How is the injury recognized?

Whiplash is diagnosed with a complete physical examination and medical history, including details of the crash.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the injury?

Time and gentle range of motion exercises are usually the best treatments for whiplash. The healthcare professional may also recommend:
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help reduce the pain and swelling
  • a cool compress applied to the neck
  • narcotic medications for severe pain
  • muscle relaxing medications for muscle spasms
  • physical therapy, if symptoms persist

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness, stomach upset, or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

It may take from 2 to 4 weeks before the person regains full range of motion of the neck without pain. The individual may have recurrent headaches. Physical therapy may be needed to help keep the neck muscles strong and healthy.

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